Staycation 2014

August 13 – 17, 2014

August 14: Day out in London

August 15: Day out in London 

August 16: Date night

Thursday, August 14

This summer, my boyfriend Jamie and I decided to go up to London for a couple of days just to do some sightseeing in our own capital city. Neither of us had really done this before, only really going up to London for gigs, and a few months in college for me, so we thought this would be a nice idea, given I don’t live too far from the city. People travel from all over the world to come here, so it seemed mad we hadn’t seen the sights in great detail. We would have loved to go on holiday somewhere warmer and further afield, but being university students, this wasn’t really an option at the moment. We saw these couple of days as our first step to travelling the world together ;) Jamie stayed with me for a few days, and the weekend turned into our own little staycation. 

On the Thursday, we aimed to see a lot of the main sights in London – not really go in and do anything, just spectate from the outside and keep the costs down. We started off at the Tower of London, and then walked west up to Hyde Park where we finished the day. My feet were pretty sore by the end of the day, but we had a nice day out! 

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Tower of London

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Tower Bridge

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Hay’s Market

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Southwark Cathedral

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Millennium Bridge (too busy for an artistic shot) 

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The Shard from the Millennium Bridge

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St Pauls selfie!

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Walking along South Bank 

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Trafalgar Square

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Big Ben

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Houses of Parliament

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London Eye

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Buckingham Palace selfie (just before the heavens opened)!

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Cocktail at the Hard Rock Cafe, to occupy us for the hour and a half wait for a table we’d been told! 

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Amazing burgers!

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Even more amazing desserts (that cheesecake should be criminal)! 

Friday, August 15

On the Friday, we had a game plan to visit some more tourist attractions in depth. We started off at Kings Cross, where we wanted to go and see Platform 9 and 3/4, although when we heard about the 45 minute queue just to take a picture, the magic was sucked from the whole thing, and we decided we’d come back a quieter time. Kings Cross and St Pancras are still great places to visit though, so stunning! 

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Kings Cross station 

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Patisserie Valerie at St Pancras – a Mille Feuille and a Croque Monsieur, like we were back in France! 

Our main trip of the day was to go to the view at the Shard, something I’d never done before. We’d both been on the London Eye when we were younger, but as an attraction it’s a lot more overrated, with huge queues. There was no queue for the Shard whatsoever, and we were able to go up as soon as we arrived. The prices were similar, but I definitely think the Shard was the better option. 

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NE view from the Shard

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NW view from the Shard

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Too poor for champagne

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We then got the train over to South Kensington, where we planned on going to the Natural History Museum. By this time it was about 3pm, and I’d not considered the fact there might be a queue to go in, nor that it would be several hours long! We quickly gave up on that idea and decided to come back another day after the summer, nice and early so we could spend as long as we wanted there. We wandered around South Kensington and Belgravia, some of my favourite places just to look at, and then went to Stepney Green to see Jamie’s mum who had just had surgery in a hospital there. She was doing really well and it was nice to see her! After a far more relaxed day, we went home. 

 

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V&A Museum 

Saturday, August 16

On Saturday night, we decided to have a proper date night and go out for dinner, somewhere other than Subway or McDonald’s, where we usually find ourselves. We went to Loch Fyne, one of my favourite restaurants, and rather more classy than what we’re used to, that specialise in fish, which I love, and which Jamie likes too (despite his incredibly fussy tastebuds). Honestly one of the nicest meals I’ve had in a long time, and probably my favourite date so far :) 

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Boiled salmon with Hollandaise sauce – ooh mama! 

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Stresa: Day 5

August 7 – 11, 2014

August 11: Final day in Stresa and flying home

Monday, August 11

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Today we packed up and checked out of our hotel by 11am, and then went to have our last walk around Stresa before we got our bus to the airport at 4.30. We said goodbye to our favourite waiters as well! :( We walked around the town to buy our last souvenirs, and have our final meal in Stresa, although nowhere near as good as the food at the hotel! We had a lot of time on our hands, and the weather was nice, so we ended up sitting at the lakeside for a while, although Katherine wasn’t pleased about how ‘boring’ this was.174

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We got our bus to the airport where we had a lot of time to wait – we were two hours early for check in, so there was a lot of waiting around today, in Stresa and at the airport. Our flight was delayed by half an hour, not too dreadful, although our flight home was already quite late anyway, so we weren’t going to get home until midnight at this rate. We had dinner in Malpensa’s bizarre food court, which you had to walk through to get to the gates – a lot less glamorous than the places we’d been over the weekend. We then had some time to do last minute duty free shopping, and then waited for our plane home. Fortunately the trip was short and sweet, so we were home in no time. Genuinely sad to leave Stresa, and I would love to go back! Lake Garda and Lake Como are definitely on the cards for future family holidays! 

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Stresa: Day 4

August 7 – 11, 2014

August 10: Mottarone

Sunday, August 10

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Low clouds over Lake Maggiore

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Mottarone in relation to Stresa

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Today we planned to get the cable car up to the summit of Mottarone, one of the nearby peaks. Not being keen on heights or cable cars in the past, this one was somehow okay, and we quickly managed to get to Alpino, where the cable car ended. We could then either take a chairlift (absolutely no way) up to the summit, or take a ten minute walk. 125

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The view at the top of Mottarone 

We managed to reach the summit, although the clouds meant the “stunning panoramic views” were more than slightly obscured. We decided to go back down to the second cable car station, just below Alpino, where the view was a bit clearer, in order to actually see something besides cloud!

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Family selfie at the summit!

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Giardino Alpinia 

We went to Giardino Alpinia – the Alpine Garden – where the view was known to be good. There was a small outlook point with some benches, and a great view over Lake Maggiore! We could see Stresa, some of the slightly more northern towns, as well as Verbania on the other side of the lake, and the view in the direction we travelled back from Locarno yesterday. Definitely worth coming down for. 

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Verbania

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After this – and there was some confusion about whose initial idea it was to do this – we walked back down from the alpine garden to Stresa. Supposedly not very far, this took well over an hour, and while climbing uphill is fairly uncomfortable and a lot of hard work, downhill walking is easier on the lungs, but a lot worse on the legs, and we got back to the hotel with aching limbs and feet. 

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Overlooking Stresa from our walk down the hill 

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Despite our aches, pains, and tiredness, mum and I decided to venture up to Skybar before dinner, a rooftop bar at the Hotel La Palma, which was two doors down from us. It was quite busy, although we still managed to be seated and have a (ridiculously strong) cocktail each quite quickly. We also got free aperitifs with the cocktails which were great! We’d dressed up for the occasion, the only opportunity I got during the weekend, and took some pictures of the great view as well as Skybar, which was rather impressive! 

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Skybar

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Mumma and Lake Maggiore :) 

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Me looking my fanciest ;) 

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Skybar’s infinity pool 

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Stresa: Day 3

August 7 – 11, 2014

August 9: Lake Maggiore Express

Saturday, August 9

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Lake Maggiore Express map

Today we went on the Lake Maggiore Express, which is a day-long excursion around the lake. As the map shows, the first leg takes you on a normal Trenitalia train up to Domodossola, which takes about half an hour, where you change onto a SSIF train, which takes two hours to get to Locarno, in Switzerland, at the northern tip of the lake. After three hours spent in Locarno, you take a three hour boat ride back to Stresa, or get off wherever you’re staying. 

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Stresa station 

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We got on the train at Stresa, which has an adorably small train station accommodating massive trains on the line. Ours, along with all the others we saw on this line, was double decked, something unheard of in the UK. We had a half hour journey to Domodossola, through already more mountainous areas than Stresa. 

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Domodossola

After a quick change at Domodossola, we had our two hour trip to Locarno, which provided some amazing sights, and was engaging for the whole journey instead of becoming a bit monotonous. The majority of my pictures didn’t come out very well as I had to take them through the window, but the above photo of Domodossola came out okay. 

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Locarno

We had three hours in Locarno before we had to get on our boat, where we planned on taking the rack and pinion railway up one of the mountains, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time. We wandered around the town, which was stunning, and felt as Mediterranean as further south, and had lunch at one of the pizzerias – one of the only two pizzas I ate whilst away! After that, we walked around the lakeside park, where I enjoyed the number of adorable dogs (there seemed to be a large number in Stresa, too), before we soaked up the sun for a while and got on our boat. 

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Dad and I at the pizzeria

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Lake Maggiore

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Our boat

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The first postcard I wrote in years! 

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The storm we outran! 

The boat ride got a bit monotonous after a while, given it was three hours long, and it started to rain. I managed to get in a nap on the bottom floor where it was empty and quiet, and there were comfortable chairs. We also managed to outrun a storm coming in from the north, which I managed to get a picture of, and, again, it only just started to rain when we got back to our hotel. Perfectly timed! 

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Isola dei Pescatori  

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Isola Bella 

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Stresa: Day 2

August 7 – 11, 2014

August 8: Hike to Belgirate

Friday, August 8

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The entrance to the hotel

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Distance from Stresa (north) to Belgirate, although not the route we took 

Today we decided to take a walk to Belgirate, which was supposedly four miles along a combination of made and cobbled roads, and unmade paths. We planned to get a boat back from Belgirate to Stresa, although we discovered there was only one boat in the afternoon, and given the time we left, it was unlikely we would make it, so a bus was our fallback option. The walk (hike) was slightly more challenging than we’d anticipated, predominantly uphill somehow, with fallen trees along much of the unmade path in the hills, which made things slightly more difficult, as well as small streams to cross as well. The geologist in me came out, and so revelled in such an environment, but not all of us found the obstacles as easy to contend with. 

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Mum and Dad enjoying our hike :)

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Lake Maggiore from Belgirate

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Despite the obstacles along the way, we made it to Belgirate, and just in time to catch our boat back to Stresa! We went back via Santa Caterina, a village on the opposite side to the lake, and then straight back to Stresa. Fully prepared for it to rain while we were walking, we’d been lucky enough to miss the bad weather altogether! It just started to rain as we got to our hotel, so we’d timed things perfectly. 

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Mum and I on the boat home

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Santa Caterina

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Stresa: Day 1

August 7 – 11, 2014

August 7: Travelling to Stresa

Thursday, August 7

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The view of the planes from Giraffe

After a 4.30am alarm, we drove to Heathrow’s Terminal 5 for our 7.50am flight to Milan Malpensa. We had breakfast at Giraffe, my dad’s favourite pre-flight restaurant, where I had a brioche French toast, with strawberries, apple, cinnamon and yogurt. Thought I was going to burst afterwards, but it was delicious!002

Brioche French toast <3

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Taking off over England

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We had a short and comfortable flight to Milan, arriving at 10.45am local time. The airport was relatively quiet, and so we were able to collect our luggage and get through immigration within about half an hour, with time to spare before the next shuttle bus to our hotel. It took about an hour to drive to Stresa, the town in which we were staying, which is situated on the western side of Lake Maggiore. 

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We arrived at the Regina Palace Hotel, which overlooked the lake, where we were shown to our rooms, which had great views of the back of the hotel. Given there was a main road in front of the hotel, we were happy to have a park view rather than a lake view! The hotel was stunning, with immaculate, if not a bit too ornate, interior design, a great atmosphere, and really nice rooms. 

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The view from our hotel room balcony

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Our room

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Regina Palace Hotel

Having had a nap, somewhat sorted out wifi for the weekend, and unpacked a bit, mum and I decided to go for a walk nearby and soak in the surroundings. We walked up and down the main road outside, looking at the lakeside parks near our hotel, and ventured out to the back of our hotel to see what was there. Although it wasn’t always very sunny, it was consistently warm and humid – temperate enough for a swim in the hotel pool, as mum thought! We also walked around the main town a little bit, which was quaint and typically Italian. There were plenty of souvenir shops, small restaurants and cafes, and enough gelato bars to last a while!  

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Lake Maggiore

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The town of Stresa

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The hotel’s pool

We had our first dinner that evening at the hotel – staying half board meant we could take advantage of the amazing food the hotel provided for breakfast and dinner. Within one meal we had made friends with two of the waiters, who would remain our favourite two for the rest of the weekend, and decided we’d definitely made the right choice to eat at the hotel. This evening I had broiled ricotta cheese and spinach crêpes to start, and then poached salmon with Hollandaise sauce, which was amazing, and definitely my favourite meal of the weekend. Unfortunately this was the only night we were able to sit outside for dinner, as the weather started to deteriorate after our first day, but it was nice that we were able to do it once. 

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Our first evening 

Hellfest: Days 7 & 8

June 18 – June 25, 2014

June 24: Travelling from Nantes to Portsmouth

June 25: Arriving in Portsmouth

Tuesday, June 24

After a decent night’s sleep, we woke up and had breakfast – only Jamie and I had opted to have the €4 all you can eat breakfast, which wasn’t amazing, but we got through enough brioche to keep us going. We then packed up our stuff for the final time, and met down at reception to get our taxi to Nantes station. Having booked the taxis the night before, and knowing there had been some misunderstandings, I wondered if both of our taxis would turn up, and they didn’t. The first one arrived, and Julia, Zakk and Claire went to Nantes station in that, but our second one didn’t arrive. Having been told the night before that it was hopeless to try and call for a taxi during the day, I reluctantly asked if she could call another taxi for the other four of us. It took her about half an hour to get through, but eventually we had a taxi to take us to the station as well – fortunately we had a four hour wait before our train so we were in no hurry! I had a nice conversation with our taxi driver as well which was nice, just about the festival and stuff like that, but Jamie, Dave and Mikey said it sounded impressive haha. 

After our lengthy wait outside Nantes station flew by, we got on our train to Rennes, and, this time, had a gloriously easy platform change which was nice! Now we had a ferry to catch, we didn’t want any unnecessary delays. My mood was slightly dampened when I managed to have a fall on the train, landing really hard on my coccyx (as well as banging my head), which hurt so much it actually winded me, and left me in pain for the whole train journey to St Malo. Fortunately nothing too bad came of it, so it could have been a lot worse, just an ache for the next few weeks. We made the uncomfortable walk to the ferry terminal from St Malo station in ridiculous heat and carrying more than was comfortable. Jamie and I both felt really ill and sick from the heat and walking, both of us nearly throwing up at several points, but we made it to the ferry terminal and were able to sit down, finally. Jamie and I had been entertaining the idea of booking a cabin for the trip back ever since our uncomfortable night’s sleep on the way here, and when we found out it was £66 for us to upgrade to a room (and that my mum was happy to pay for it), we jumped at the chance and booked one. I don’t think it went down particularly well with everyone else but we were past caring really. We tried to downplay it a bit to everyone, but the cabin was actually somewhat nicer than our hotel room! The bathroom was definitely bigger – and had a built in bottle opener for some reason – and the beds were perfectly comfortable. We had a quick lie down, and were both showered before we’d even left port! Definitely one of the better decisions we’ve made, and, if we take the ferry again, we will definitely be booking a cabin! 

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Our cabin!

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Cabin selfie

We spent the evening up on deck again, having a couple of cocktails in the bar, a chat with a waitress who had been to Hellfest, and obviously another croque monsieur for dinner again. We then settled down in our bunks and quickly and comfortably went to sleep! 

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Sunset over La Manche

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Wednesday, June 25

After falling asleep around midnight, naturally waking up at 6am was a bit odd. We kept getting confused about what time it was in England/France, what time it was on the boat, and what time in which time zone we were getting into port, so we always gave ourselves an extra hour to get ready. Despite this, we ended up pulling into Portsmouth much earlier than was scheduled, so we hardly had any time to get ready anyway. 

After meeting up with everyone else, and making our way back to Southampton, Jamie, Dave and I decided to have a proper Spoons breakfast, which we were craving. Feeling pretty good after that, we then slept the afternoon away! Although an absolutely exhausting week, mentally and physically, Hellfest was absolutely incredible, and hopefully we can do the same next year! Attempting another route or mode of transport might be an idea though, especially as there are flights between Nantes and Southampton!